Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Ward, Anthony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Graham McTavish, Malik Bazille, Ricardo “Padman” McGill, Gabriel Rosado, Wood Harris, Buddy Osborn, Rupal Pujara, Brian Anthony Wilson, Alex Henderson, Jim Lampley, Michael Buffer, Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser and the voice of Liev Schreiber.
Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington.
Directed by Ryan Coogler.
Distributed by Warner Bros. 133 minutes. Rated PG-13.
About nine years ago, Sylvester Stallone did a massive mea culpa tour as he was releasing what he promised was the “final” Rocky film, Rocky Balboa. Stallone repeatedly apologized for allowing his original film – which was rightfully a classic and won the 1977 Best Picture Oscar against such stiff competition as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Network – devolve into the cartoonish depths of Rocky IV and Rocky V.
Stallone swore that Rocky Balboa would be his way of giving Rocky a proper swan song, and that film worked well in that role. Thirty years after Philadelphia club fighter Rocky Balboa forced the world champ Apollo Creed to scream, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch,” there had been all too many rematches, which had done little but beat on the reputation of the original classic. (They also made a decent amount of money and kept Stallone working decades after his career would have otherwise sputtered out.)
However, as Stallone had promised, Rocky Balboa put things right, making the best film in the series in years, definitely since Rocky III, arguably since the first film. It was a fine, nostalgic farewell to an iconic character. It was also an ideal place to leave the series behind, with a swell of renewed respect and affection. At the time, in my review of Rocky Balboa, I said, “I just pray that Stallone stays true to his word and resists the urge to make Rocky VII.”
I didn’t expect that to be the case, though. In fact, I had no doubt that Stallone, whose entire career is pretty much down to squeezing every last drop of blood he could get out of Rocky, Rambo and now The Expendables, would eventually figure out how to drag his most famous creation out of mothballs yet again.
At least Stallone has finally come to terms with the inevitability of age and is not going to make Rocky fight anymore. Instead, in this Rocky: The Next Generation take on the classic story, the good-hearted palooka Rocky Balboa finally has been transitioned to the Mickey role of older-broken-down fighter turned manager and trainer.
Still, I didn’t have high hopes for yet another trip down this well-trod road. Therefore, I am happy to report that Creed is actually a terrific reboot of the series, a film which understands the power of the original film and brings it forward into a new millennium.
This movie takes a fresh, intriguing look at a very old story (does anyone watch boxing anymore?) and finds surprising depths in what you’d assume were pretty drained waters.
And, honestly, it only helps that Stallone did not write the screenplay this time out.
Stallone is just a gun-for-hire here, working as an actor only and this frees him up to give his best performance in years. He is also not the main character, Rocky has been demoted to a supporting role and the fact that Stallone doesn’t have to carry the film on his shoulders is also a positive.
Particularly since the new lead character, Adonis Creed – the illegitimate son of Rocky’s former rival Apollo Creed – is played by Michael B. Jordan, who shows that his amazing central performance in Fruitvale Station was no fluke.
Creed does not only take the star of that terrific film, it also inherits writer and director Ryan Coogler, who has figured out a terrific way to bring this old franchise up to the present. Creed is not just a nostalgic film – though there are elements of nostalgia to it – but it feels wonderfully current. And, for better or worse, it sets up a whole new series of films that can keep this franchise going for another 20 or so years.
I just hope that by the time we get to Creed III or IV, we’re not back on the mat, down for the count yet again.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 25, 2015.